Comparing Inequalities in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s Education System


One could also say that the feeling gave the words truth.

Ludwig Wittgenstein


“The degree of equality in education that we can reasonably hope to attain, but that should be adequate”, remarked Condorcet in one of his seminal works The Sketch “is that which excludes all dependence, either forced or voluntary” (Condorcet & Lukas, 2012). The premise asserted by Condorcet, promulgates the importance of quality of education. Additionally, the notion echoes the enlightenment notions which placed critical thinking and rationality at the core of the education system. Even though the importance of the notion promulgated by Condorcet can’t be denied and isn’t particularly challenged here but the structural limitation that is ignored by Condorcet has to be emphasized; the role of power structures in construction of myths, prejudices and self-declared truths is what is being ignored. When assessing Pakistan and Afghanistan’s education system, dependence in the education system and exclusion existing within the system aren’t entirely dependent on the education system – quality of education – but is simultaneously dependent on power structures as well. For that precise reason, it is asserted, that the power structures and the construction of discourses of truth in different temporal periods through the moving base are central and have played a crucial role in maintaining and sustaining inequalities in both countries – within the education system – rather than merely quality of education and material factors.


Delineation of Research Methodology

The central focus of the paper is to assess the discourses of power present in the culture within Afghanistan and Pakistan’s society and examine the effect on education structure. The methodology that is applied to assess the inequalities in the education system is Foucault’s ‘Discourse Analysis’, which asserts that discursive moments construct general statements about the concept, and determine methods through which the concept will be talked about while institutions and authorities grant them the status of ‘the truth’. Also, other discourses supplement and support the existing and established truth by acknowledging it later. Moreover, the subject, according to Foucault, is a construction of the power structures in a society – signifiers that are signified by power relations. To analyze power relations in Pakistan and Afghanistan’s education system, three power models are applied in this paper, sovereignty model (power relations constructed through institutions), repressive model (repression of sexuality and in this case of a female/women in society through religion and tribal norms) and commodity model (income inequality). Additionally, the major problems in the education system like gender inequality, income inequality, linguistic inequality and factors supplementing these like housing and criminal justice system are analysed through the application of those three models specified above.   


Inequalities in Pakistan and Afghanistan’s Education System

Pakistan and Afghanistan have been struggling to improve the quality and quantity of educated citizens for several years now – this was one of the areas that were given significant attention by World Bank and UN after US forces invaded Afghanistan. Overall, Afghan government and Pakistan’s government has also increased investment in education over the years; however, the structural problems in education system are still existent.


  1. Analysis of Education Inequalities in Afghanistan

Since 2002 – after US invaded Afghanistan – the country’s enrolment has significantly and constantly increased. According to the data available, the enrolment has increased from less than a million to almost six million, however, the gender gap (ratio) has remained constant throughout the period – there were minor fluctuations but overall it has remained constant. Also, in terms of access to education by disabled individuals, the gender difference is almost 40% among people between ages of 7-14. Moreover, the disparity between urban and rural areas is still evident even after several programs in rural development – the attendance by girls is almost double in urban areas as compared to rural areas. Additionally, in terms of primary schools completion rate, most regions in the country still have completion between 30%-45%; in the south on the other hand the percentage is below 20%. Also, there is evidence that inequality in form of superiority of language exists as well, since individuals speaking Dari, are more likely to be educated than Uzbek.  Furthermore, the ratio between a teacher and student is still above 31:1, and low quality material environment is hindering the learning process as well. Similarly, the housing shortage – slums in the urban areas (80% of the population live in informal housing) – high inflation and unemployment rate has further hindered the learning process (access to education). Also, security has been pointed out in the surveys conducted by The Asia Foundation as the key reason behind parent’s hesitance to send their kids to schools – 33% of the people.

To précis, the power structures are evident from the data mentioned above; the first and most fundamental power structure that has played the most crucial role in sustaining the inequalities is the repressive model in the form of gender inequality. The constructed local and tribal norms have in several parts of the country produced and authenticated ‘the truth’ – there truth – that women should have a limited role in the society – evidence does suggests that there were few female novelist, writers and activists during the 1960’s, however, because of dislocation of the previous truth, the present construction has quiet successfully repressed those ideals and has sustained ‘the truth’ through a certain interpretation of religion to support, reaffirm and propagate those tribal norms and behaviour. The second evident inequality – economic/geographic/linguistic – is sustained through political elite involvement and preferences, corruption, tribal loyalty, ethnic dynamics – commodity model and sovereignty model – and is functioning at a quiet multifaceted level, since each separate discourse sustains and supplants each other.


  1. Analysis of Education Inequalities in Pakistan

According to the data available, there has been a minor rise since 2008 in primary and middle school enrolment while the trend has been relatively better for high school. However, like Afghanistan there is a constant gender gap in the enrolment and attendance throughout those years. Additionally, there is a clear gap between provinces and regions in terms of educated male and females – KP and FATA has the highest male enrolment rate, while KP, Punjab, and ICT has a significant female enrolment rate. Moreover, the lowest gap between male and female is in Punjab and ICT while Baluchistan and FATA have the highest gap. Furthermore, in terms of reading, writing and mathematics, the poorest in monetary terms are worst-off in each category while the richest are better-off. Overall, housing location – geographical factors and resources available in those regions are hindering access to education for females especially in KP, FATA – child labour and bonded labour (more than 1.3% of the population are in slavery and almost 50% of them are children, while the average years for repayment are at least seven years), tribal and local rivalries, increase in insecurity, inflation, changes in consumption pattern, preference is given to housing and clothing after food rather than education  and abusive and corrupt juvenile criminal system have played a crucial role in directly affecting the access to education and hindering overall progress and reform in the structure.[1]

To encapsulate, in terms of power structure influence over the education system, a similar trend is visible, if we compare it with Afghanistan. Commodity model and repressive model dominate the structures and have further entrenched division and exclusion than housing or criminal system – since housing and criminal system are elements themselves of the commodity and sovereignty models of power. Moreover, there have been counter trends throughout the history of Pakistan to counter gender issue and because of this reason commodity model has become dominant in major urban and rural areas close to urban areas while in regions like KP and FATA, repressive model dominates due to tribal dynamics. Additionally, the play of discursive forces and acknowledgement of commodity model over the years especially after 1980’s, has constructed structures that has sustained so far the inequality in education. Overall, the dislocation in urban areas has been the key discursive moment that has dislocated the previous truth to bring another truth and eventually led to moment away from repression to commodity while in tribal region the power has been sustained by a certain interpretation of the religion that has supported and acknowledged the power since a certain moment in history.



To précis and reassert what was stated before, the power structures and assigning of signifiers to particular signified and overall discursive formation are at the heart of the culture and the system within which the society functions. Moreover, power structures have indeed upheld, supplanted and maintained inequalities in the system. Finally, even though several major problems facing education like lack of facilities, lack of funding, lack of equipment, lack of training of staff and several other are essential for improvement of quality and quantity of education in both countries but it is the critique of the structures that endures and maintains these structure of power is what is essential for tackling any inequality in the long-term.


[1] Refer to statistics available in CIA Factbook, 2015., Center for Global Development, 2015., Alif Ailaan, 2014

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